Alter Ego responds to some of your email queries. Is she married? Why do young lawyers get paid so little? Is it better to chamber in small or big firm?
I’ve received a surprising number of emails at [email protected] since starting this column.
Some have been very nice. Some have been a bit silly. Some have been critical. And oh, of course, many have been people guessing who I am!
I’ve received many requests to write about particular areas of corporate practice, which I’ve taken on board and will hopefully get to doing in the coming weeks.
Here are some responses to a few of the more common questions.
Are you married?
A few people asked this. Initially, I thought that this was another way of getting me to drop hints as to my identity (I’ve been asked what car I drive, whether my office is in the city, and how many people I have on my team). But then I received a few more specific emails about this marriage issue, from young female lawyers, and I realised that the question was really about (for some of those who asked anyway) whether it’s possible for a woman to sustain a legal career and get married.
So, yes, I am married.
It is however true that, generally, female lawyers don’t have long careers. Most tend to drop out around the three-year mark, usually to do in-house work. Some keep going, but on a limited scale and harbouring no desire to push for partnership. There is a growing trend of late (particularly in corporate legal practice) to allow part-time or work-from-home arrangements for female lawyers, which has been very encouraging.
Having said that, let me be clear that there are many very successful female lawyers who have been in practice for 10 years or more. However, there is undeniably a marked difference between the career lengths of a female and male lawyer. To each his (or her) own.
Why is the starting pay for young lawyers so low?
Is it really? I suppose there are firms which offer low starting salaries, but there are also firms which offer very generous salaries.
I personally do not believe in salary scales. Instead, lawyers should be paid based on how good they are. Obviously it is difficult to gauge this for a newly-called lawyer, but there are indications based on his qualifications, grades, and from the interview process obviously (assuming a proper interview was conducted). If it’s not possible to go off-scale, then at the very least, the better lawyers should be properly rewarded come bonus time.
To answer the question then, no I don’t think the starting pay for young lawyers can be said to be low, overall. Shop around. Apply to a few firms and compare the salaries.
But if you’re saying that the firms who pay well don’t want to hire you, ah, then that’s a different story altogether!
Would you recommend joining a small, medium, or large firm for chambering?
There is a common misconception that chambering at a smaller firm means that you get more hands-on experience, and that chambering at a bigger firm exposes you to more glamorous, high-end work. This is a misconception simply because there are many, many smaller firms (having less than 20 lawyers) which do very good work, and handle major transactions. Also, there are many large firms where chambering pupils get thrown into a “general pool” to do all sorts of menial work. It’s not all glitz and glamour, boys and girls.
It depends more on the individual you get to work for, really. Most large firms in KL are very fragmented, and the working culture, scope, and experience differs greatly depending on which partner or “team” a chambering pupil gets to work with during those 9 months.
This is why it’s important that chambering applicants take the time to do some research about the firms they are interested in, and ask specific questions at the interview. Remember, choosing where you chamber is an important decision which will have an impact on the first year or two of your practice, at least.
Alter Ego has been a corporate lawyer in Kuala Lumpur for many years. Livin’ La Vida Loyar is a weekly semi-fictional, sorta-kinda-fact-based, non-chronological account of her experiences in the legal industry. She is writing this column anonymously because she doesn’t want people around her to know that, when she’s furiously typing on her BlackBerry in their presence, she is actually taking notes for this column! Plus of course there’s all this mumbo-jumbo about client confidentiality and getting disbarred. If you have an interesting story to share from your experiences as a lawyer, your encounters with a lawyer, or if you have a question about lawyers, please email her at [email protected]. Confidentiality is guaranteed. She thinks tweeting should be left to the birds. As all fiction is to some extent autobiographical, you may think she’s writing about you. She’s not. Jangan perasan. You may also think you know her. You don’t. Jangan kay-poh.